Crab feasts are pretty easy to put together. The main attraction is the focus of most attention, so appetizers, side dishes and desserts are barely noticed. Of course, there are certain guests who accompany other guests who are either allergic to crabs or just plain can't stand seafood. So, there needs to be some consideration of their protein sources. And then there are crab eaters who like to take a break from the picking and try out those hot dogs, Italian sausage and hamburgers, the beans and slaw and/or tossed salad, and all those other goodies you got for the non-crabby ones.
Which all leads to the big poser: How many crabs to get. Jumbo, of course. From your favorite provider. We like to allow six of the big guys for each guest, plus a dozen or so extra. Not for them, but for the follow-up picking session the next day or so. That's when I get to really enjoy the ritual without being concerned with how my guests are faring.
These crabs are the stuff of gourmet-dom. Some to eat right now, maybe dunked in some drawn butter, a la lobster. Some to save for favorite recipes, dishes we gorge on for the next few days. In my humble opinion, your own efforts at picking these crabs make them the very best tasting you can get.
Which hard-won crab meat is our topic du jour, wherever you acquire this delightful crustacean.
This is a sinful dish, containing as it does a cup of heavy cream, but you can lighten it with half and half; just use a little less, if you want the potage to be thick.
We also use shrimp in this recipe. Leave the shells on for additional flavor in the base, then shell and devein the shrimp while the stew cooks, and add them later.
Serve with a green salad, some artisanal bread and a favorite rosé.
1 stick unsalted butter, divided
1/2 pound medium shrimp, shells left on
1/3 cup dry sherry
3 cups bottled clam juice
1 1/2 cups water
1 medium onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds crab meat, picked over, cartilage removed
3 cups warm, cooked basmati rice, for serving
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, garnish
In a medium saucepan, over medium-high, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add shrimp and sauté until beginning to brown. Add sherry and cook 2 minutes. Add clam juice and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and save broth. You should have about 3 cups, maybe a bit more. Remove shrimp and let cool enough to handle. Peel and devein shrimp and cut in half lengthwise. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in another saucepan over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add paprika and chipotle powder. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add flour and stir for 2 minutes. Using a whisk, slowly add shrimp/clam broth, then cook, whisking, until smooth. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat, whisking, just until thickened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in cream and simmer 5 minutes longer. Pepper to taste. You probably won't need salt.
In a large, non-stick skillet, over medium heat, melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Add crab meat and reserved cooked shrimp and cook, stirring gently a few times, until heated through, about 5 minutes.
To serve, divide cooked basmati rice among 6 shallow soup plates. Divide seafood broth among plates. Top rice and broth with crab and shrimp. Garnish with parsley. Makes 6 servings.
Crab and linguine
This main dish combines al dente pasta with sweet crab and a saucy South of the Border background provided by red chili pepper and cilantro.
Again, a side salad works well with the main dish. Warmed flour tortillas may make a nice accompaniment. And it's OK to quaff a beer instead of wine.
If you can't stand the heat, substitute red bell pepper for the chili pepper.
This may seem like a lot of olive oil, but remember, it's the basis for the pasta sauce.
1 pound linguine, cooked al dente according to package directions, drained and kept warm (don't overcook)
1/3 cup olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, sliced paper thin
1 medium-size red chili pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional leaves for garnish
1 pound crab meat, picked over and cartilage removed
Finely grated zest and juice from 1 lemon
Lemon or lime wedges, for serving
Coarsely ground black pepper
Cook pasta and keep warm, but don't let it overcook.
In a large, non-stick skillet, over medium-low, heat olive oil. Add garlic, chili pepper, parsley and cilantro. Cook 2 minutes, stirring, until garlic is fragrant. Add crab and heat through for 2 minutes, stirring gently to combine.
Return pasta to cooking pan and add crab mixture. Add lemon zest, then juice and toss to combine. Taste for seasonings. Add ground black pepper, if desired.
To serve, remove to a platter or individual plates. Garnish with cilantro leaves and lemon or lime wedges. Makes 6 or more servings.
Tropical crab salad
A warm summer evening provides the perfect backdrop for this main-dish salad that features avocado and mango. Bake or fry some tortilla chips to add crunch to the proceedings; cut flour tortillas into wedges and fry in a bit of olive oil or peanut oil, or brush with oil and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. When still hot, add some sea salt if desired.
2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger (peeled of course)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon (or more) Asian fish sauce, aka Nam Pla
About 1 cup canola oil
1 1/2 pounds crab meat, preferably jumbo lump (but use what you've got)
2 medium ripe Haas avocados, peeled, seeded, finely diced
2 medium mangoes, peeled, seeded, finely diced
1/4 cup snipped chives
3 hard boiled eggs, each cut into 6 wedges
Spring mix, for salad bed
Watercress sprigs, garnish
For the dressing, in a blender, puree together the shallot, ginger, lime juice and fish sauce. With blender running, add oil in a slow, steady stream until mixture emulsifies (thickens). Transfer to a large bowl. Add crab, avocado, mango and chives to dressing. Mix gently but well. Taste for pepper, and salt. Add gently, if needed. Refrigerate for about 30 to 60 minutes before servings.
To serve, arrange spring mix (mesclun) on 6 chilled salad plates. Mound crab salad on greens. Arrange 3 hard-boiled egg wedges on the side of each plate. Garnish with watercress. Serve with homemade tortilla chips. Makes 6 servings.